Ever since the chair of Mormon Studies was announced at Claremont, there has been a wave of speculation about who would fill it. Well, that speculation is now over. The following announcement has been passed around in certain circles (though I don’t find anything on the CGU website yet):
Professor Richard Bushman has been appointed as the Howard W. Hunter Visiting Professor in Mormon Studies. Professor Bushman was Governor Morris Professor of History at Columbia University, where he is currently emeritus. He has taught at Boston University, Harvard, Brown, University of Delaware and Brigham Young University. Over the course of his career he has published 11 books, receiving a Bancroft and Phi Alpha Theta prizes as well as the Evans biography awards. His scholarship ranges over the social and cultural history of early America, the political history of colonial New England, American religious history and the history of the Mormon Church. The list of fellowships that he has received is extensive; among them are a Guggenheim Fellowship, Huntington Fellowship, National Humanities Center Fellowship and National Endowment for Humanities Fellowship. For the academic year 2007-2008 will hold a Huntington Library fellowship and be in residence in Pasadena. He will come to Claremont in the Fall of 2008.
In many ways, Bushman is the perfect person for this job. He is almost universally well-liked, extremely capable, and an excellent mentor. He has in recent years become the public face of Mormon Studies and embodies everything that this new discipline can and should be. His students and colleagues will be lucky to have him and he will no doubt greatly enrich the lives of those with whom he works.
Bushman, however, has one drawback for this new role. He is 76 years old. I believe he’ll turn 78 during his first year of teaching. While he certainly shows no signs of slowing down either physically or intellectually, one wonders about his long-term stamina. The reason that this is a concern is because graduate programs have long lives. The typical doctoral student takes about 5-7 years. Can Bushman see his first few students to completion? What about those accepted four years from now? While I have seen faculty members continue to be productive into their eighties, and I of course hope to see Bushman in this category, it does seem like a great deal of pressure for him to even graduate five or six students over the first ten years of his appointment.
Unfortunately, we may have to face the same problem ten years from now that we have now. Who is capable enough to fill this role besides Bushman? Will there be another who will rise up in the next decade who can fill those shoes?